South African Jazz for Nelson Mandela

A playlist of jazz tunes dedicated to South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela (ANC) Addresses Special Committee Against Apartheid in 1990. Image: UNIS Vienna, via Flickr CC.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the man that so many South Africans have come to love; even those who grew up being taught that he was a communist and a terrorist when communism was portrayed as a great evil. He achieved so much in his life, but what he achieved was for the people of South Africa–not for himself. In his biography, A Long Walk To Freedom, he writes: “It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world.” Many jazz artists have paid tribute to Nelson Mandela over the years, and I felt it fitting to dedicate one of my radio shows to this music as a tribute.

My JazzE radio show only plays jazz from South African artists and so I compiled a playlist of songs that can be related to Nelson Mandela for a special tribute edition. Here is that playlist, and some background on each of the songs selected. Where available I’m providing a link. Full show is embedded at the end.

Moses Khumalo, “Meadowlands“: A song written by Strike Vilakazi to protest the forced removal of residents of Sophiatown in 1955. Sophiatown was seen by the apartheid government as a threat, and it was in Freedom Square, Sophiatown that Mandela first alluded to armed resistance as a legitimate tool for change. The area where the black residents were removed to was called Meadowlands in Soweto.

Bheki Mseleku, “Home At Last.” Mseleku lived in exile in London for many years. This song was composed on his return to South Africa. Although not specifically directed or in honor of Nelson Mandela, I included this tune not only to remind us of Mandela’s return home after 27 years in prison, but also of his return to his eternal home on Thursday 5 December 2013.

Eghard Volschenk, “Kwela For Mandela.” A Namibian born jazz guitarist,  Volschenk wrote this song for Mandela, he said many years ago. This kwela song has a sound that has strong Cape jazz influences. Listen to it here.

Allou April, Madiba’s Jive. Sticking to sounds that are typically South African, this time from Allou April with an upbeat jive number, one that we can certainly imagine Mandela doing his ‘Madiba Jive’ to.

Linda Kekana, “A Song For Madiba.” A beautiful song composed by Linda and Ephraim Kekana, and recorded by acclaimed jazz vocalist and South African Music Award winner Linda Kekana, this is a touching tribute.

Zim Ngqawana, “Long Waltz To Freedom.” Ngqawana has two entries in this playlist, the first is this, an obvious reference to Mandela’s biography Long Walk To Freedom. He was musical director for Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration on 10 May 1994, he passed away on the anniversary of this day in 2011.

Ological Studies, “At Peace.” This song was selected, both for Mandela’s contribution to peace, but also the fact that he is now at peace.  This is a band that has performed alongside the legendary Zim Ngqawana mentioned above.

Winston Mankunku Ngozi, “Give Peace A Chance.” This composition off his 2003 album Abantwana Be Afrika was chosen as a song that aligned itself well with Mandela’s ideals. The song was released 9 years into our new democracy and well into Thabo Mbeki’s first term as president.

Abdullah Ibrahim, “Mandela at the Tabernacle.” BTW, Ibrahim had two recordings smuggled onto Robben Island, “Peace: Salaam” and “Mannenberg.”. Mandela described “Peace: Salaam” as a song that could be used amongst prisoners as a “cohesive force to create stability.”

Kevin Clark, “Sikelele uMandela.” Clark is from New Zealand, so an exception on this list. The album has strong South African influences and was released in both New Zealand and South Africa. This song “Sikelele uMandela” (Bless Mandela) is a fitting tribute.

Ismael GTX Xaba, “Dr Nelson Mandela Iqhawa.” Another direct tribute to Nelson Mandela, this time by Ismael GTX Xaba, the internationally renowned pianist who learned to play by sneaking in through a church window to practice on the piano inside.

The next three songs were chosen because of Madiba’s love of children:

Voice, “Children In The Rain.” Voice is a quintet formed by some contemporary greats. Marcus Wyatt, Andile Yenana, Herbie Tsoaeli, Sydney Ace Mnisi and Lulu Gontsana.

Mankunku, “Abantwana be Afrika.” The song means “Children of Afrika.”  During the struggle, Mandela was unable to be a father to his own children, but he has shown his love for children throughout his life.

Harry Miller’s Isipingo, “Children At Play.” Miller was another South African artist who lived and died in exile. This song is the third and final song chosen to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s love for children.

Zim Ngqawana, “Anthem.” This final song on the show playlist is based on Enoch Sontonga’s Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika (God Bless Africa) the anthem of the African National Congress, the party to which Nelson Mandela belonged. It also forms a major part of the national anthem of the Republic of South Africa since it achieved true democracy in 1994. Please see entry on ‘Long Waltz To Freedom’ for some background on Zim Ngqawana:

Two tunes that were left off the radio show playlist due to them being rather predictable choices are: Hugh Masekela’s “Mandela (Bring Him Back Home),” which became a struggle anthem, and Jonathan Butler’s “Mandela Bay.”


Further Reading

An unfinished project

Christian theology was appropriated to play an integral role in the justifying apartheid’s racist ideology. Black theologians resisted through a theology of the oppressed.